Taylor city officials are close to setting a plan on how the city can reopen more local facilities.
On Sept. 2, the Taylor City Council gave direction on a city reopening plan drafted by staff. The plan was presented after an update from the Williamson County and Cities Health District on COVID-19 and the group's own guidance on criteria for reopening.
"The message to the public tonight is that we will have a reopening plan based on gating criteria in place after the Labor Day weekend," said Mayor Brandt Rydell Wednesday night, "and hopefully at that point, Williamson County will find itself in the moderate community transmission phase, which will mean the vast majority of our park facilities will be open and available for folks.”
Many parks and recreational facilities have been closed since the spring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most open spaces have remained open to the public except on some major holidays.
“I admittedly as mayor of Taylor have taken a very cautious and conservative approach when it’s come to COVID,” said Rydell. “I was quick to close things down and have been as mayor slow to move towards reopening.”
Rydell said although Taylor has worked alongside the WCCHD in determining courses of action, he wanted citizens to know that the partnership does not dictate decisions from city officials.
“You can field the information from the health district, from our public health professionals, but then you act on your own based on a number of factors that may be unrelated to public health,” added Rydell. “I will plead guilty to being overly cautious about this because I think as I told Mr. (Derrick Neal, WCCHD executive director) previously, I treat a global pandemic as if it’s a global pandemic, and it is one of the biggest public health challenges that we’ve experienced in the last century.”
The draft of the city’s reopening plan addressed several areas such as municipal buildings, events, masks and more. Non-city related facilities or events are still under the jurisdiction of Gov. Greg Abbott's recent orders, which address items such as business capacities and closures.
Based on the draft, the plan is divided into four phases representing different levels of community transmission. Green represents a minimal risk of transmission. Yellow is moderate, red is high, and black is very high and uncontrolled.
According to the WCCHD, Williamson County could reach a phase that matches yellow on Taylor's measurement scale as early as this coming week. However, health district representatives advised caution as testing has decreased, schools continue to reopen, sports resume, and Labor Day gatherings might take place.
Wednesday night's discussion eventually focused on determining which facilities should be open under which phase. Trey Krueger sent in a citizen comment on behalf of the Taylor Little League board in support of a safe reopening of ballparks. He advised the council of safety guidelines that the league has released, which are available at https://www.taylorlittleleague.org
“Our experience with our wonderful league parents demonstrates our members and parents take precautions to take care of their child and children on their team,” said Krueger on the league’s behalf. “We respectfully ask the council to consider opening up the baseball and softball fields for the fall.
Mayor Pro Tem Ariola was in favor of more facilities reopening after hearing from the league and constituents, as well as noting school sports and open activities resuming. He acknowledged locals who had passed away from the coronavirus, including a family member. However, as more COVID-19 information and safety practices have been publicly released, he said the community knows more than it did since the pandemic began.
“I’m ready to open up in Taylor. I concur with masks. I concur with the social distancing. I like these guidelines as a guideline,” said Ariola. “I don’t need the city of Taylor telling me to stay away. I personally can make my decision, and I think most of our constituents feel that way. I’m not talking about just carte blanche opening everything back up, but the next step I think is opening these venues and policing them accordingly.
In the plan draft, most parks and recreation facilities currently closed would reopen when switching from the red to yellow phase. However, if local cases spike and put Taylor back in a red phase, the draft called for those facilities to close again.
Council members made suggestions about which facilities might remain open if the county re-enters a red phase, such as tennis courts and other areas where social distancing is more viable. WCCHD officials also noted that their guidance criteria had yet to be finalized, which was likely to be done so Friday.